Shara Hughes - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, March 2, 2023 | Phillips
  • “All landscapes are constantly changing, whether it’s the time of day or the temperature or the weather patterns and things growing and dying. The constant state of change created so much possibility.”
    —Shara Hughes

    Its surface fractured into kaleidoscopic shards of rich colour and shifting textures, The Unsteady Eddy is a vibrant and visually complex example of Brooklyn-based artist Shara Hughes’ inventive imaginary landscapes, paintings which are ‘less concerned with depicting nature than they are with creating intimate, imaginary, and emotionally charged spaces’.i While the distinctive physical qualities of the natural world - the solid smoothness of a rock, or the shimmering surface of a pool - are deftly realised in the rapid switches between flat, solid zones of colour and shorter, almost pointillist brush marks, these stylistic features emerge more as painterly responses to compositional problems than stemming from any fidelity to representation.

    Executed in 2017, the same year that Hughes presented a room dedicated to her vividly coloured landscapes as part of the Whitney Biennial, The Unsteady Eddy records the confidence and energy with which the artist has reimagined this timeless subject for the 21st century, her paintings opening doors between the real and imaginary worlds, interior and exterior states.


    Shara Hughes Interview: Changing the Way we See, Louisiana Museum


    Back to the Land

    Originally known for her highly patterned domestic interiors, Hughes first turned to landscape in 2014 as a means of working through certain pictorial problems and strategies. Unlike her interiors, which proceeded from their titles or clearly defined ideas and were packed with emotionally charged objects from her everyday life, Hughes reversed her methodology when approaching this new subject, liberating herself further from the demands of representation and allowing herself to follow a more intuitive approach to her compositions.

    In a practice described compellingly by Mia Locks as ‘painting backwards into figuration’, Hughes approaches her canvases uninhibited - spontaneously and intuitively applying marks and drawing out unmediated forms as her compositions take shape.ii As the artist explains: ‘I don’t have any plans when I start a landscape; it is usually very subconscious and intuitive. I merely play around with colour and texture, whether it’s a work on paper, or a painting, and then something clicks and I start to organise it into a landscape that doesn’t necessarily identify with a specific place.’iii Openness, play, and intuition are thus embedded into her practice, and it is through this explorative approach to her compositions that Hughes is able to create the ‘visual problems that she can then try to solve.’iv


    Left: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, The Waterfall, 1919, private collection CAPTION: Right: Wassily Kandinsky, The Church in Murnau, 1908-09, Regional M. Vrubel Art Museum, Omsk
    Left: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, The Waterfall, 1919, Private Collection. Image: Album / Alamy Stock Photo
    Right: Wassily Kandinsky, The Church in Murnau, 1908-09, Regional M. Vrubel Art Museum, Omsk. Image: Bridgeman Images

    In their fractured forms, high-key palette, and steep, shallow sense of pictorial space, Hughes’ landscapes have often elicited favourable comparison to early 20th century avant-garde painting, especially by those associated with Fauvism and German Expressionism. For these artists too, working within the frame of the more historically conservative landscape tradition paradoxically enabled some of the more radical pictorial experiments that they were pursuing, laying the groundwork for the leap into abstraction eventually taken by Wassily Kandinsky and others.


    While the juxtaposition of short, different-hued brushstrokes used to such powerful effect in the shimmering pools of water here recall André Derain’s Fauvist landscapes, the expressive colour and angularity of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s landscapes seem especially relevant to discussions of Hughes’ treatment of space and perspective. Knitting various different viewpoints together, Hughes generates a series of vertiginous transitions as our eye traverses the painted surface, ensuring that her landscapes are not only produced from a strikingly embodied perspective, but recreate this sensation in her viewers.


    Rather than objective visual truths, these early 20th century artists were especially interested in capturing more subjective, emotional worlds in their jagged contours and expressive use of vibrant colour, a stance that resonates with Hughes’ own approach to the complex interplay of interior emotion and the physical world. As the artist describes, ‘I think nature reflects emotions in so many ways […] Nature is constantly changing, you will never see the same flower twice in the exact same way. The light changes; its growing, or dying, and moving. This is very reflective of humans and psychology.’v


    While clearly developing a robust dialogue with early 20th century European painting, Hughes’ landscapes also belong to a tradition of American abstraction that includes Georgia O’Keeffe’s sweeping desertscapes, Richard Diebenkorn’s controversial return to a more figurative mode of painting in the 1960s, and Yorkshire-born David Hockney’s winding Californian vistas. However, while all these artists used physical space and observable features of the natural world as a starting point for their compositions, Hughes’ paintings bridge interior and exterior worlds, taking us with her into these otherworldly landscapes.


    David Hockney, Mulholland Drive: The Road to the Studio, 1980, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles
    David Hockney, Mulholland Drive: The Road to the Studio, 1980, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Image: Richard Schmit, Artwork: © David Hockney

    Collector’s Digest:


    • Since her first solo show in 2007 at Rivington Arms in New York, Shara Hughes has been showing steadily in galleries across the US and Europe for nearly 15 years. In 2020, Hughes opened her first exhibition with Pilar Corrias in London. Her first retrospective in a major institution opened at the Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis in October 2021, followed closely by the opening of The Bridge at the Yuz Museum, her first solo show in Mainland China.

    • Examples of Hughes’ works are included in the permanent collections of the Dallas Museum of Fine Art; the Foundation Louis Vuitton, Paris; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Denver Museum of Art; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.


    i Mia Locks, ‘Working Tension: On Shara Hughes’ Landscapes’, in Shara Hughes: Landscapes, New York, 2019, p. 9. 
    ii Mia Locks, ‘Working Tension: On Shara Hughes’ Landscapes’, in Shara Hughes: Landscapes, New York, 2019, p. 11. 
    iii Emily Spicer, ‘Shara Hughes – interview: ‘I wanted the works to feel like figures you would visit at church, something divine’’, Studio International, 17 May 2021, online
    iv Mia Locks, ‘Working Tension: On Shara Hughes’ Landscapes’, in Shara Hughes: Landscapes, New York, 2019, p. 9. 
    v Shara Hughes, quoted in Emily Steer, ‘Shara Hughes uses Painting to Reflect the Turbulent Human Mind, Elephant, 16 Mach 2020, online.

    • Provenance

      Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich
      Private Collection, Switzerland
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2018

    • Exhibited

      Zurich, Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Group Show: Jean-Marie Appriou, Martha Atienza, Dora Budor, Shara Hughes, Iman Issa, Justin Matherly, Tobias Pils, Magali Reus, Yves Scherer, 20 January – 24 February 2018

    • Literature

      Mia Locks, Ian Alteveer and Shara Hughes, Shara Hughes / Landscapes, New York, 2019, p. 84 (illustrated)

    • Artist Biography

      Shara Hughes

      Shara Hughes (b. 1981) earned a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design and later attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. She currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. 

      The artist is best known for her colorful landscapes which bridge a gap between the real and the imagined, and the beautiful and the chaotic. Working intuitively, the artist does not typically pre-plan her canvases. Rather her process involves giving form and shape to her previously applied brushstrokes and reacting to her last applications of paint and color through more painting. 

      Hughes has participated in numerous group exhibitions, at venues such as FLAG Art Foundation, NY (2023); ICA Miami (2022); De la Cruz Collection (2022); Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk (2021); Dallas Art Museum, Dallas (2019); MASS MoCA, North Adams (2018); and the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA (2015). The artist was also included in the 2017 Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY. Hughes’ work belongs to many prominent museum collections including the Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX; the Denver Museum of Art, Denver, CO; the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA; the Jorge M. Perez Collection, Miami, FL; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, Atlanta, GA; the M Woods Museum, Beijing, China; the Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, AZ; the Rachofsky Collection, Dallas, TX; the Saint Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, MO; the Si Shang Art Museum, Beijing, China; the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; and the Whitney Museum of Art, New York, NY; among others. Hughes lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.

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Property from a Private European Collection


The Unsteady Eddy

signed, titled, inscribed and dated ‘“The Unsteady Eddy” SHARA HUGHES 2017 NYC’ on the reverse
oil and Flashe acrylic on canvas
172.7 x 152.4 cm (68 x 60 in.)
Painted in 2017.

Full Cataloguing

£400,000 - 600,000 

Sold for £533,400

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4060

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 2 March 2023